Earlier this week, Iran’s National Soccer Team remained silent while the Iranian national anthem played at their game against England. The team is currently under scrutiny as the world watches them maneuver how to represent both their country and their people in the midst of violent domestic crackdowns.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September triggered massive protests in Iran. She was wearing a headscarf while in the capital when the Iranian morality police arrested her for not properly covering her hair. The police beat her while she was in their custody, and she died a few days later after being sent to the hospital in a coma. The protests have lasted for months, and reports indicate that since 400 protesters have been killed and 16,800 have been arrested.
Many people praised the Iranian soccer team for staying silent during Monday’s World Cup game. The Iranian government officials, however, widely criticized the soccer players’ actions. Coincidentally, during today’s Wales versus Iran game, the Iranian players decided to sing along to their national anthem.
One player, Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi explained that his team was “not under any pressure” after their decision to stay silent during Monday’s game. He did emphasize, however, that his focus was football, not politics, “I cannot change anything; thousands of other people like me cannot change anything. The fact is that we have come here to play football – not only us, but all the players who are present in Qatar have come here to play football.”
As the cameras panned from the singing players to the audience, images of crying fans dressed in Iranian colors flashed across the screen. Fans of both Wales and Iran booed in unison when the Iranian anthem played. One protester named Ali said although he wanted his team to do well, it was hard to focus on soccer. He told reporters, “When [I] see my brothers and sisters on the streets in blood, how can I focus? How can I be happy?”
Iran’s team manager Carlos Quieroz, from Portugal, questioned why the Iranian government’s actions attracted such scrutiny: “It’s your right to do those questions, but what I feel strange, as a normal citizen of the world, is you don’t ask the same kind of questions to the other coaches and other national teams, knowing that they have so many problems at home, and cause so many problems all over the world.”